Virgin Atlantic Details Major Changes to Its Flying Club Program
Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club program is the latest frequent flyer program to undergo some changes that are generally not all that consumer-friendly. As of November 13, 2016, the Flying Club program will switch to a system that's more rewarding for those who spend a lot of money with the carrier and less rewarding for travelers looking to fly for as little cost as possible.
Here's a breakdown of the largest changes in the devaluation:
- You'll earn fewer miles from flying in the lowest economy classes, and more miles for flying in Upper Class or the highest (flexible) Premium Economy fares.
- Silver members earn a 30% points bonus on top of the standard cabin bonus and miles flown, and Gold members earn a 60% bonus (Silver and Gold used to earn a 50% and 100% bonus on base miles, respectively).
- Tier point values are going up (by 25x), but earning them will become more difficult.
- Award redemptions are going down in price, but it will also be more difficult to earn miles if you're flying in the cheapest fare classes.
Virgin Atlantic is also changing the way in which you qualify for elite status. Whereas you used to need 15 tier points to earn Silver status and 40 tier points to earn Gold status, you now need 400 tier points to reach Silver and 1,000 tier points to reach Gold status. The carrier is also changing the way in which you earn tier points. With the new program, your current tier points will be worth 25x more — Virgin will multiply your existing tier points total by 25 points. So, effectively, you can earn Silver status with one round-trip flight in Upper Class (J, C, D or I fare classes) to Europe, but it'll take you eight round-trips in lowest-fare economy to earn Silver status.
You can use this tool on Virgin Atlantic's website to calculate how many tier points and miles you'll earn on your flight based on origin, destination and class of travel. Overall, the change in earning tier points will only really benefit those spending more on tickets. In this respect, Virgin Atlantic is targeting frequent business-class travelers who are flying quite often with the airline. When traveling often, being able to earn miles and tier points at these elevated rates will benefit those business travelers the most.
To really drive that point home, here's a comparison of the tier point earning rates/qualification for Silver members under the current program vs. how things will look starting on November 13. (This based on flights to/from London.)
|Silver (Old)||Silver (New)|
|Tier Points to Earn Status||15||400|
|Bonus||50% bonus on base miles flown||30% bonus on both miles flown and cabin bonus miles|
|One-Way Economy Flights to Earn Status (Lowest Economy Fare Classes)||8 (4 round-trips)||16 (8 round-trips)|
|One-Way Economy Flights to Earn Status (Highest Economy Fare Classes)||5 (3 round-trips)||8 (4 round-trips)|
|One-Way Premium Economy Flights to Earn Status (Lowest Premium Economy Fare Classes)||5 (3 round-trips)||8 (4 round-trips)|
|One-Way Premium Economy Flights to Earn Status (Highest Premium Economy Fare Classes)||4 (2 round-trips)||4 (2 round-trips)|
|One-Way Upper Class Flights to Earn Status (Lowest Upper Class Fare Classes)||3 (2 round-trips)||4 (2 round-trips)|
|One-Way Upper Class Flights to Earn Status (Highest Upper Class Fare Classes)||3 (2 round-trips)||2 (1 round-trip)|
As you can see, earning Silver status will only be easier under the new program for a handful of travelers — and mostly for those who pay for the most expensive tickets. You could earn Silver status with one round-trip booked in the highest Upper Class fares, but the out-of-pocket cost for that flight could easily top $10,000. On sample search dates in 2017, fares priced out just north of $14,000.
The same holds true for Gold status:
|Gold (Old)||Gold (New)|
|Tier Points to Earn Status||40||1,000|
|Bonus||100% bonus on base miles flown||60% bonus on both miles flown and cabin bonus miles|
|One-Way Economy Flights to Earn Status (Lowest Economy Fare Classes)||20 (10 round-trips)||40 (20 round-trips)|
|One-Way Economy Flights to Earn Status (Highest Economy Fare Classes)||14 (7 round-trips)||20 (10 round-trips)|
|One-Way Premium Economy Flights to Earn Status (Lowest Premium Economy Fare Classes)||14 (7 round-trips)||20 (10 round-trips)|
|One-Way Premium Economy Flights to Earn Status (Highest Premium Economy Fare Classes)||10 (5 round-trips)||10 (5 round-trips)|
|One-Way Upper Class Flights to Earn Status (Lowest Upper Class Fare Classes)||8 (4 round-trips)||10 (5 round-trips)|
|One-Way Upper Class Flights to Earn Status (Highest Upper Class Fare Classes)||7 (4 round-trips)||5 (3 round-trips)|
So even though tier points are technically worth more, it won't be easier for most Flying Club members to earn status.
What About Redemptions?
Qualifying for Flying Club elite status isn't the only thing that'll be changing. Virgin Atlantic is also changing its redemption chart for award flights. Beginning January 16, 2017, standard off-peak (January, February, March, May, September, October and November) award flights will start at 20,000 miles round-trip + taxes, fees and surcharges starting at $470. Peak season (April, June, July, August and December) awards will start at 40,000 miles round-trip + taxes, fees and surcharges starting at $470.
With the old Flying Club program, a round-trip flight from New York to London would cost 35,000 miles plus taxes and fees ranging from $645-$774. But, while you may be paying less in the number of miles needed for an award ticket, earning miles is much more difficult. With one paid round-trip flight in the lowest economy fare class from New York to London, you'll earn just 3,463 miles. Of course, the more you spend, the more miles you'll earn in return.
In addition, Flying Club didn't previously have peak and off peak awards, so it would have cost you 35,000 miles round-trip, regardless of the time of year. Now, a peak award ticket will jump 20,000 miles to 40,000 round-trip.
Upgrades Are Also Changing
If you've booked a ticket in economy or premium economy and are looking to upgrade, there's a chart that outlines exactly how many miles that'll cost you.
These upgrades are bookable as of January 16, 2017, and they exclude the lowest price tickets — N, O and V in economy and K in premium economy. The above figures are for round-trip travel in the off-peak season. During peak season travel, you'll need an additional 10,000 miles for economy to premium economy upgrades, from premium economy to Upper Class and 15,000 additional miles for an upgrade from economy to Upper Class. If you do upgrade with the new levels, there will also be more taxes, charges and fees starting from $243.
From US - Northeast to London, an upgrade from economy to premium economy would cost you 15,000 miles one-way (30,000 round-trip), an upgrade from premium economy to Upper Class would cost you 20,000 miles one-way (40,000 round-trip) and an upgrade from economy to Upper Class would have cost you 35,000 miles one-way. With the new upgrade award chart, the same upgrades will cost you 17,400 miles, 47,400 miles and 71,200 miles round-trip, respectively — or 27,400, 57,400 and 86,200 in the peak season.
With the announcement, Virgin Atlantic also made some other changes to the Flying Club program that are worth noting. For those who have been a member of the Flying Club program for a while and have obtained status, you'll know that your frequent flyer number changed when you moved tiers. With the new Flying Club, however, your number will remain the same no matter your status and no matter how many times you move tiers. In addition, you'll get a new digital membership card.
Another addition for the Flying Club program is that children under the age of 12 are now allowed to have Flying Club accounts. As a Gold member, you can pool your family's miles together into one account, so redemptions can become more easily attainable.
The Miles Plus Money is also a great option and makes booking travel much more flexible. For every 3,000 miles you spend, you can get a discount off your ticket and you'll still earn miles and tier points on your flight. With enough miles, it'll be possible to pay for an entire trip using this benefit. Miles Plus Money can be extremely handy when you can't get an award seat, you could get a discount on a revenue fare.
Ultimately, these are some pretty disappointing changes from Virgin Atlantic. To begin with, Flying Club wasn't exactly the most rewarding program, and these changes are just the latest in a growing trend for the industry. As of November 13, 2016, the new program structure will take effect, so there isn't much time to qualify for status before the new earning structure kicks into play.
It's worth noting however, that the changes aren't all that negative for frequent business travelers who sit in premium fare classes — in fact, these changes could be more rewarding quicker. Also, the earning with partners won't change, and neither will earning from credit card spend. So overall, there is a silver lining in these changes.
Just last week, we detailed Hyatt's major changes to its loyalty program to switch to a program that benefits those who spend the most with the chain. It's worth mentioning that there are several other airlines that offer frequent flyer programs such as this, which benefit those who spend the most. So much so that it's becoming evident that this is clearly the future for frequent flyer programs. The clear winners in this situation are those who spend the most with the carrier, and the losers are those who spend the bare minimum to travel — earning tier points and miles is about to get much more difficult for the latter group.
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